Blue iceberg taken out the window of a ship.
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Tips for taking amazing photos with your phone in Antarctica

When it comes to travel photography, most of us think of lugging around a bulky DSLR camera with multiple lenses (I know we do!). However, not everybody has a camera or the ability to carry around bulky photography equipment. So I am here to tell you that your small and mighty phone can actually be very effective in capturing amazing photos, especially in a place as unique and remote as Antarctica.

Mountains at sunset at the end of the lemaire channel.
Una Peaks at the Northern entrance of the Lemaire Channel

When Is Phone Camera A Better Choice?

Don’t get me wrong, DSLRs have their advantages and are always my first choice, but there are times when a phone camera can be very useful. For example, phone cameras are smaller, lighter, and more convenient to carry around. It makes them perfect for on-the-go photography (think, going for a morning walk around the deck of the ship). Plus, many modern phones have impressive camera technology, allowing you to capture stunning images with just a few taps of your fingers.

But why is phone photography specifically important for capturing photos in Antarctica?

Well, for starters, Antarctica is a place where things happen in an instant. You have your tripod and DSLR camera set up taking a stunning timelapse of the Antarctic sunset. Then you suddenly see a playful penguin jumping in and out of the water. And somebody shouts “Whale!” and everybody runs to see it! Having the option to take photos/ videos with your phone camera is a saviour in instances when your camera is “busy”!

Moreover, we found that whilst I was taking great photos with his DSLR, Ieva always had her phone to capture videos of the whales, birds and icebergs.

A waterproof phone with a decent camera is an excellent choice when on a zodiac, especially if it is wavy and windy. Put your phone on a lanyard around your neck and take beautiful videos from the small inflatable boat, without risking salty water splashing on your expensive camera gear!

Furthermore, phone cameras have come a long way in recent years, with many models now featuring advanced features like wide-angle lenses, night mode, and image stabilization. These features can help you capture the unique landscapes and wildlife of Antarctica in stunning detail, even in challenging lighting conditions.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Antarctica and want to take amazing photos to document your journey, don’t underestimate the power of your phone camera. With a few tips and tricks, you can capture stunning images and videos that will transport you back to the beauty and wonder of the frozen continent.

Know your phone camera

Before you embark on your photographic journey in Antarctica, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with your phone camera’s capabilities and limitations. Your phone’s camera app may have a range of features, including manual settings for ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in the “pro mode” that you can use to your advantage.

Understanding the capabilities and limitations

Although phone cameras have come a long way over the recent years, they are not DSLRs. It’s crucial you understand your phone camera’s capabilities and limitations to take the best possible photos. Two main limitations of using your phone to capture travel photos include:

Shooting in low-light conditions

This is a lesser of the two issues. If you are travelling to Antarctica during the summer months (tourist season), you are going to get close to 20-24 hours of daylight. With the addition of the light reflecting away from the snow, Antarctica is likely to be one of the highest and lightest environments you will ever shoot in.

But if you are looking to capture photos when the sun starts to set, your phone camera’s small sensor may be challenged. Fortunately, many phone cameras now have a night mode that can help brighten up your images and reduce noise and blur caused by low light. Make sure to experiment with the night mode before you go. And ensure you don’t miss out when you see something spectacular in low light in Antarctica!

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Capturing distant subjects

Another limitation is the limited zoom capabilities of phone cameras. In Antarctica, where you may want to capture distant subjects like wildlife, it can be frustrating. This being said, a lot of state-of-the-art phones now come with multiple lenses built-in, offering medium zoom capabilities. Using a lens attachment can help, but can be a bit fiddley.

Settings and features to maximize phone camera’s potential

Standard camera mode vs. Pro mode: This is probably the largest decision to make when using your phone camera. Rely on the standard camera mode to control all settings, allowing you to concentrate on taking a photo quickly and getting the composition you like. This also allows you to benefit from the phone software. This, in turn, helps to get your settings just right, in most situations!

Alternatively, use Pro mode. It allows you to take control of almost all the camera settings yourself. Some phones also allow you to save RAW files.

Enable gridlines: Another feature that can be helpful when taking photos in Antarctica is the gridlines. The gridlines can help you align your photos and create a more balanced composition. They also give you a reference to line up with the horizon. No one likes a wonky horizon!

Additionally, when taking photos of landscapes, try using the panorama mode to capture the vastness of the scenery. Use your phone in portrait mode

Make use of all your built-in camera lenses. Modern phone cameras often have a wide-angle and telephoto lens built in. These give you the flexibility for a wide number of compositions.

wide angle photo of Orne harbour in Antarctica.

Lastly, some phones have the option to shoot in RAW format. Shooting in RAW format can help you capture more details and information in your photos, giving you more flexibility when editing your images. RAW images also have a higher dynamic range, allowing you to recover details in overexposed and underexposed areas of your photos. Just keep in mind that RAW files take up more space than JPEG files, so make sure you have enough storage on your phone or bring an external storage device. They also require editing, which can be time-consuming if you take many photos.

If you’re unsure, use the JPEG + RAW option if your phone supports it. Practice at home before your trip to make sure RAW files are something you’re comfortable using.

Basic photography principles

Composition and framing techniques, lighting and exposure, and focusing and depth of field are basic photography principles that apply to all cameras, including phone cameras. Understanding these principles can help you capture more compelling photos and create a sense of depth and dimension in your images.

Composition and framing techniques

Here are some well-known techniques that you can use whether you are taking photos on your phone or a DSLR camera.

  1. Use the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a basic guideline that can help you create more visually appealing images. Simply imagine your image divided into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and place your subject along one of these lines or at an intersection point. This is where the gridlines come in very handy too!
  2. Capture the scale. Antarctica is a vast and expansive place. And you can create a sense of scale by including a recognizable object in the foreground of your shot, such as a person or a research station. This will help give your viewers a sense of the immense size of the landscape.
  3. Look for leading lines. Leading lines can draw the viewer’s eye into the image and create a sense of depth and perspective. Examples of leading lines in Antarctica could be the ridges in ice formations or the contours of the landscape.
  4. Use framing techniques. Framing your subject can create a sense of context and add interest to your photos and videos. Look for natural framing opportunities in the landscape, such as ice formations or rock formations.
  5. Experiment with angles. Experimenting with different angles can create unique and interesting perspectives. Try shooting from low angles or high angles to capture the scenery from a new perspective. Making use of the wide-angle lens on most modern phones can work well for this.

Take your time to experiment and remember to be creative with different techniques to capture your own personal style and vision.

Zodiac and icebergs at yalour islands.

Lighting and exposure

Here are a few tips and tricks for capturing the best photos in the unique lighting conditions of Antarctica.

  1. Antarctica can make it challenging to get the right exposure. Use the exposure compensation tool: Many camera phone apps have an exposure compensation tool (typically titled EV in pro mode or ☀+/- in standard camera mode). This allows you to manually adjust the brightness of your image. For snowy scenes, increasing exposure is important. Your phone often senses the scene is too bright and adjusts settings automatically to reduce the amount of light reaching the phone sensor. Unfortunately, this can lead to a darker image and grey snow.
  2. Avoid using the flash. Your subjects will normally be too far away for a flash to be effective. Generally, there is plenty of light during summer in Antarctica therefore a flash shouldn’t be needed. Also, a flash could startle wildlife which wouldn’t be ideal. Turning your flash off will also save battery.
  3. Look for interesting shadows and highlights. The unique lighting conditions in Antarctica can create interesting shadows and highlights that can add depth and texture to your images. Experiment with different angles and positions to capture these effects.
  4. Use HDR mode. High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode can be useful for capturing detail in both the bright and dark areas of your image. This mode takes multiple exposures of the same scene and combines them to create a more balanced and dynamic image. Be careful not to overdo this, as the resulting photos can look over-edited.
Sunset in Antarctica.

Capturing Antarctica’s landscapes on your phone

Tips for photographing Antarctica’s icy terrain

As previously discussed, you can use common composition and framing techniques in order to take stunning images of the Antarctic landscape.

  1. Use the rule of thirds to create visually appealing images.
  2. Incorporate a recognizable object in the foreground of your shot to give a sense of scale.
  3. Look for leading lines in the landscape to draw the viewer’s eye into the image.
  4. Use framing techniques to create a sense of context and add interest to your photos and videos.
  5. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to create unique and interesting compositions.
Zodiac landing on the beach at deception island with a yacht and snow covered hills in the background.

Techniques for capturing the unique colours and textures of icebergs and glaciers

  1. Focus on the foreground to highlight interesting textures and details in the ice formations. This works well in combination with a wide-angle lens.
  2. Experiment with different lighting conditions and angles to capture the unique colours and textures of the icebergs. Head to our iceberg photography guide to learn more.
  3. Most phones have a high-megapixel mode. Although these are typically at a fixed focal length (don’t allow you to zoom in or out or use the wide angle lens) this is a great way to capture high-resolution shots.
Iceberg amongst many other small icebergs.

How to photograph Antarctica’s spectacular sunsets and sunrises

  1. Make the most of the golden hour – the period just before sunrise or just after sunset – to capture soft and warm light that can make your photos look magical.
  2. Use HDR mode to capture detail in both the bright and dark areas of your image.
  3. Experiment with different camera settings to capture the stunning colours of the sky. For example, the exposure to retain the colour in the sky or lens type, e.g wide angle or telephoto.
  4. Use a tripod to keep your camera steady and reduce camera shake. An alternative is to hold your phone securely against a fixed object such as a handrail.
Sunset at peterman island antarctica, with mountains in the background and icebergs in the foreground.

Photographing Antarctica’s wildlife

Antarctica is home to an incredible array of wildlife, including penguins, whales, seals, and many other fascinating creatures. Capturing these animals on camera can be a thrilling experience, and with the convenience of smartphone cameras, it has never been easier to snap up close and personal photos of Antarctica’s unique wildlife. Here are some tips and techniques for photographing Antarctica’s wildlife on your phone.

Best practices for photographing penguins, whales, and other animals

  1. Use the in-build telephoto lens or the zoom function on your phone to get close-up shots of the animals without disturbing them. Stay a safe distance away from the animals and never approach them too closely.
  2. Look for interesting angles and perspectives to capture the animals in their natural habitat.
  3. Pay attention to the lighting conditions and adjust your camera settings accordingly.
  4. Be patient and wait for the animals to exhibit interesting behaviours or interactions with their environment. Read more about penguin photography here.

Tips for capturing action shots of animals and birds in motion

  1. Use burst mode to capture multiple shots of the animal in motion or bird in flight to increase your chances of getting the perfect shot. But accept that you will have multiple blurry images before you capture THE ONE.
  2. Pay attention to the animal’s movements and anticipate where they will be next to capture the action.
  3. Experiment with different camera angles and perspectives to add interest and drama to your action shots.

Editing Antarctica photos on a mobile phone

Antarctica is a stunning and unique landscape that offers endless opportunities for photography. And with the convenience of smartphone cameras, it has never been easier to capture the beauty of this remote continent. However, taking great photos is just the beginning – editing them can help you enhance your images. Here are some tips and techniques for editing your phone camera photos of Antarctica.

People climbing up a hill at orne harbour.

Basic editing techniques to enhance your photos

When editing Antarctica phone photos using apps like Lightroom Mobile or Snapseed, there are several key editing features you should pay attention to. These features can help you enhance the natural beauty of your photos and bring out the details that make Antarctica such a unique and breathtaking landscape. Here are some editing features to consider:

  1. Exposure: Adjusting the exposure can help you brighten or darken photos which were not correctly exposed. This can be especially important in Antarctica, where the bright snow and ice can sometimes cause overexposure. However, be careful not to overdo it, as the photos will become grainy.
  2. Contrast: Increasing the contrast can help make your photos look more vibrant and dynamic. This can help bring out the textures and details in the ice, snow, and other features of the landscape. Caution, many phones already oversharpen images.
  3. Temperature and Tint: Adjusting the temperature and tint can help you correct the colour balance in your photos. This can be important in Antarctica, where the light can sometimes have a cool, blue cast.
  4. Sharpening: Adding a little bit of sharpening can help bring out the details in your photos and make them look more crisp and clear. Be careful not to over-sharpen, however, as this can create a harsh, grainy and unnatural look.
  5. Saturation and Vibrance: Adjusting the saturation and vibrance can help you make the colours in your photos look more vibrant and true to life. Be careful not to overdo it, however, as this can create an overly-saturated or unnatural look.
  6. Crop and Straighten: Using the crop and straighten tools can help you create a more balanced composition. Always make sure the horizon is straight!

Apps to add filters and effects

  1. Consider using apps like Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile to add filters and effects to your images. Download these apps before you board the ship over stable wifi.
  2. Experiment with different filters and effects to find the ones that best suit your style and the mood of your photos.
  3. Be mindful not to overdo it with filters and effects, as this can detract from the natural beauty of your images. Antarctica is naturally beautiful!
View out on deck as we arrived at Port Lockroy.

Conclusion

Capturing amazing photos with your phone camera in Antarctica requires a combination of technical knowledge and artistic vision. By understanding your phone camera’s capabilities, using the right settings and features, and applying basic photography principles, you can capture stunning images of Antarctica’s unique landscapes and wildlife. Remember to always respect the environment and wildlife, and have fun exploring the beauty of Antarctica through your lens.

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